Fixing the Phillies: Part Three (Offense)

Posted: October 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

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When the Phillies were upstart contenders in the mid-2000s, it was their high-powered offense that led the way to victory. A lineup consisting of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Jimmy Rollins sent shivers down the spine of opposing pitchers. However, this offensive juggernaut has been in sharp decline ever since Brad Lidge mowed down Eric Hinske to capture Philadelphia’s second championship five-years ago.

Ruben Amaro, for all his failures in addressing the bullpen and the farm system, should be mostly chastised for his inability to build a sustainable offensive force. Gone are the days when the Phillies would outslug opponents on their way to victory. Instead, Amaro decided to build the franchise around veteran pitching. Few will argue against the team’s acquisitions of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. After all, they provided the necessary punch to lift Philadelphia to the best-record in baseball in 2010 and 2011. However, no pitcher is going to win if they don’t get a single run of support. We saw this sad statement become fact in the team’s last postseason game. Despite Halladay’s complete game gem against St. Louis in game five of the 2011 NLDS, the Phillies lost, 1-0.

Since that day two years ago, Amaro has done little to improve the lineup. He passed on Michael Cuddyer (.331-20-84), Josh Hamilton (.250-21-79), and the rest of the potential free agent acquisitions the last two seasons. The Phillies’ GM also failed to address the offense through trade, where such forces as Justin Upton (.263-27-70) and Carlos Beltran (.296-24-84) have propelled their teams to postseason berths.

Instead, Amaro has tried to paint a picture of success by spending big on starting pitching (Lee, Hamels, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will combine to make $193 million until their contracts expire) and late-inning relief (Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams will make a combined $33 million). This is not a terrible strategy. Few teams win without dynamic pitching. But, even fewer teams win without clutch offensive performers. After all, the Phillies won their title with a rotation consisting of such dynamic hurlers as Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, and Joe Blanton.

When Amaro has failed, he has failed dramatically. Signing Raul Ibanez to a three-year contract in December, 2008 was his first major move on the job. Raul was strong for a two-month period in 2009. But, his dismal performance compared to his price tag in 2010-11 showed that Amaro still had a lot to learn. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he has.

Following the Phillies’ five-game playoff loss to St. Louis in 2011, Amaro had to have known that the offense was not good enough as currently constructed. He had just spent a large amount of capital on Hunter Pence, only to trade the outfielder a year later to San Francisco for ten-cents on the dollar. The GM then went out and acquired such luminaries as Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix, both of whom were utter failures in red-pinstripes.

Last year, instead of acquiring Cuddyer or Hamilton, Amaro traded Vance Worley and Trevor May for OF Ben Revere (.305-0-17). Ben is a great guy and a decent fielder and leadoff hitter. But, the kid has never hit a MLB home run (and has only one in his entire MiLB career). That is hardly the difference between a mediocre offense and a championship caliber one. The outfielder would play just 88 games this season, and the Phillies’ inability to overcome injuries to Revere and Howard (.266-11-43) would contribute greatly to their inability to drive in runs. Delmon Young (.261-8-31) was yet another bargain basement bum that Amaro relied upon this season.

Some will argue that Amaro’s biggest problem is the contracts that he doles out. It is difficult to argue that the Howard and Rollins contracts were pitiful. Utley’s recent extension, while not a dramatic overpay, also has the potential to blow up in the organization’s face. But, the biggest problem with Amaro has been his inability to find that diamond in the rough. His predecessor, Pat Gillick, was able to minimize the pain of poor contracts like those given to Adam Eaton (3 years, $24 million prior to 2007) and Jamie Moyer (2 years, $16 million prior to 2009) by acquiring cheap, cost-effective talent. Acquisitions like those of Werth, Greg Dobbs, Tad Iguchi, Chris Coste, and Victorino helped to turn the Phillies’ offense into the juggernaut it once was. Yes, Howard’s ability to hit 50+ home runs in those days helped. But, the numerous clutch hits provided by the players named, all of which came very cheap when Gillick was the GM, were what really revved the Philadelphia engine.

Enough of the past. What about the future? Amaro goes into 2014 with a target on his back. If the Phillies don’t finish above .500, he will likely see his time in the City of Brotherly Love run out.

Below is a roundup of the Phillies’ financial situation as well as a projected 2014 lineup with the team as currently constructed:

Guaranteed Contracts

SP Cliff Lee – $25 million
1B Ryan Howard – $25 million
SP Cole Hamels – $23 million
2B Chase Utley – $15 million
RP Jonathan Papelbon – $13 million
SS Jimmy Rollins – $11 million
RP Mike Adams – $7 million
SP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez – $4 million
Total – $123.5 million

Arbitration Eligible Players (With Estimated Contract Value)

RP Antonio Bastardo – $2 million
SP Kyle Kendrick – $6.6 million
INF Kevin Frandsen – $1.3 million
OF John Mayberry – $1.7 million
OF Ben Revere – $1.5 million
OF Casper Wells – Non-tendered
OF Roger Bernadina – Non-tendered
SP Jon Lannan – Non-tendered
Total – $13.1 million

Philadelphia is currently estimated to have $136.6 million committed to just 13 players. Granted, it remains to be seen whether or not Frandsen or Mayberry will be tendered a contract. The Phillies will also likely have a cheap bullpen, as the likes of Justin DeFratus, Jake Diekman, and Joe Savery proved they deserved a shot in 2014. The lineup, as currently constructed, looks like this:

CF Ben Revere
SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Chase Utley

1B Ryan Howard
LF Domonic Brown
3B Cody Asche
C Erik Kratz
RF John Mayberry

That’s hardly a contender’s lineup card. Especially when one considers the inability of the Big Piece to stay healthy. The bench is even uglier:

OF Cesar Hernandez
OF/1B Darin Ruf

C Cameron Rupp
INF Kevin Frandsen
UTL Michael Martinez

As one can see, the Phillies have a majority of their holes on offense. If they do go with Asche (.235-5-22) at the hot-corner until Maikel Franco is ready, that will eliminate one need. Really, the franchise’s biggest needs at this point are catcher and corner-outfielder. Carlos Ruiz (.268-5-37) rebounded well in the second half after a dismal beginning to 2013. He is a free agent for the first time in his career. Unfortunately for Chooch (and fortunately for the Phillies), the catcher’s market is flooded this winter. Below, we take a look at the best available catchers and corner-outfielders as free agency approaches:

Free Agent Catchers

1. Brian McCann, Atlanta – .256-20-57
The longtime Atlanta backstop is hitting free agency for the first time. He’s also picking the best time to do it as three of MLB’s highest spending teams, the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Phillies are all looking for catching help. McCann is inarguably the best offensive catcher available. But, he is also likely to receive at least a 4-year deal. Approaching his age-30 season and with the free spending Red Sox and Yankees likely to pursue, it would seem unlikely (and perhaps unwise) for Amaro to spend big in both money and years to the former Brave.

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston – .273-14-65
The former Atlanta prospect, who was one of many shipped to Texas in the 2007 Mark Teixeira deal, saw his career rebound the last two seasons with the Red Sox. “Salty” is your classic low-OBP, high power catcher. Another drawback is his poor defensive prowess, as Boston has used David Ross in late-inning situations this season. Saltalamacchia is likely to receive a multi-year deal (two or three years) at $8 million or more. The good news is that he is a switch-hitter in a Philadelphia lineup full of lefties. The bad news is that he cannot hit lefties (.206-16-66 compared to .263-52-209 vs. RHP). He’s certainly an option. But, far from the best.

3. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia – .268-5-37
Despite his suspension for Adderall this season, you would be hard pressed to find a Philadelphia fan with many negative things to say about “Chooch.” A Phillies lifer, Ruiz has been one of the most clutch hitters in the organization over the last decade. The good news for Philadelphia is that Ruiz doesn’t seem likely to receive the amount of interest he might have if the team had not exercised their option on him last winter. He also has made it public that he would like to finish his career in Philadelphia. Ruiz remains the likeliest option behind the plate next year. A two-year contract worth $4-7 million per season would be an adequate bridge to the team’s plethora of young backstops including Rupp, Tommy Joseph, and Gabriel Lino.

Best of the Rest

AJ Pierzynski, Texas – .272-17-70
He is 37-years old and a lefty. Doesn’t seem like a good fit.

John Buck, Pittsburgh – .219-15-60
Buck began 2013 as one of baseball’s hottest hitters. Then, the summer came. He has hit a combined .207-27-103 in 216 games the last two seasons. That doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence that he could handle a full-time role at this point in his career.

Dioner Navarro, Chicago – .300-13-34
Navarro is a curious case. The backstop for the 2008 AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays saw his career come crashing to a halt from 2009-12, as he averaged .215-4-17 over that time frame. But, 2013 saw him reestablish his worth with Chicago. He’s an intriguing buy-low candidate. But, for a team with playoff aspirations, he would be a better backup than starter.

Geovany Soto, Texas – .245-9-22
Soto, the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year, has seen age get the better of him the last few seasons. After he compiled a brilliant .264-51-186 stat line from 2008-10, Soto saw his numbers drop dramatically as the new-decade emerged. He has hit just .220 over the last three years, and is likely to receive a one-year contract yet again.

Free Agent Corner-Outfielders

The Phillies cannot go into 2014 with John Mayberry starting in the outfield. They also seem apprehensive to go with Darin Ruf in right despite his strong half-season with the club. If they are intent on bringing in a free agent, these are the targets that they should approach:

1. Shin Soo-Choo, Cincinnati – .285-21-54
Choo picked a good time to experience a career year. After being acquired by Cincinnati last winter, the Korean outfielder put together a brilliant campaign. He is likely to receive a 5-6 year deal in the $80-100 million range. But, it could be worth it. The 30-year old has played in at least 144 games in four of the last five years. In each of those campaigns, Choo has provided at least a .373 OBP. This past season, his first in the National League, Choo was among the league’s leaders in OBP at .423. For a Phillies team without table-setters at the top of the order, the oft-walked Choo could be the perfect fit.

2. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis – .296-24-84
The Phillies have flirted with Beltran twice before. First, when he was a free agent back in 2004 prior to signing with the New York Mets. Then, at the trade deadline in 2011, when the team balked at New York’s asking price before dealing for Hunter Pence. He’s 36-years old, which suggests that he is unlikely to receive more than a two-year contract (although Amaro signed 37-year old Ibanez to a three-year commitment in the past). Coming off back-to-back stellar offensive seasons, the switch-hitting Beltran would be a great fit in Philadelphia. There are a couple of problems, however. Beltran is expected to receive serious interest from the Yankees, who have a hole in their outfield. He is also not the defender that he once was, and will likely move to DH soon enough. If Beltran can be had for 2 years, $30 million, it would not be the worst decision that Amaro could make.

3. Curtis Granderson, New York – .229-7-15
What a difference a year makes. If Granderson had been a free agent last winter, he would have likely received a $100 million contract. Now, coming off an injury riddled 2013, the three-time All Star could be looking at a “prove-it” deal. There’s no doubting his power (84 home runs in 2011-12 with the Yankees) or his defensive prowess. Granderson’s question marks have always related to his inability to get on base. If the Phillies are looking for a run-producer this offseason (as they should be), they are unlikely to find more bang for the buck than Granderson.

4. Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston – .298-9-53
Ellsbury is a talented player. There is little denying that. His combination of speed, defense, and surprising power make him a dream in the eyes of MLB GMs everywhere. The problems, though, are durability and value. The former Oregon State Beaver has played in 150+ games just twice (2009 and 2011). His miraculous 32 homer campaign in 2011 seems like the outlier, as Ellsbury’s 9 homers this year matched his second highest total. If Ellsbury could stay healthy, he would be a $100 million player. Someone like Seattle might still be willing to give him that kind of money. But, it would be wise for Amaro to view Ellsbury with caution.

5. Marlon Byrd, Pittsburgh – .291-24-88
Byrd picked a tough time to have a career year and enter free agency. Despite his spectacular 2013, Byrd still figures to be no higher than fifth on most team’s boards. That could be a positive for a team like the Phillies, who have plenty of holes to fill with a finite amount of financial resources at their disposal. The former Phillies’ prospect has bounced around quite a bit in his career. He’s got good pop and strong defense. His lone drawback is his terrible plate discipline (144 K, 31 BB). Byrd is likely to demand a multi-year deal. But, 2 years, $10 million would be a cheap, alternative option to the high-priced talent above him.

Best of the Rest

Nelson Cruz, Texas – .266-27-76
Cruz was suspended 50-games for steroids this past season. But, he still has impressive pop (20+ home runs each of his five full MLB seasons) and is a right-handed bat. One has to question what role steroids played in his success, though.

David Murphy, Texas – .220-13-45
Murphy picked about the worst time to have the type of dismal offensive campaign that he experienced. In the four years prior to 2013, the 32-year old averaged .285-14-57. He’s a lefty who can’t hit southpaws, so Amaro’s interest would seem remote. Still, if he can be acquired for cheap, he could be an intriguing platoon option with Darin Ruf.

Mike Morse, Baltimore – .215-13-27
His stellar 2011 (.303-31-95) seems like the outlier. Morse rose to fame with those numbers when he was a National. After being traded to Seattle last winter, the injury problems that riddled his career returned. Morse has played in over 100 games just twice in his 9-year career. There seems to be no chance that he would receive a multi-year contract this winter.

Philadelphia, as mentioned in past posts, has holes to fill in both their rotation and bullpen. But, their greatest need remains their beleaguered offense. If the Phillies can find a quality outfield bat, retain Ruiz, and supplement their offense with a strong bench; they could find themselves back in contention in 2014. This season was a poor one, and it’s no surprise that the blame has gone right to the front office with Ruben Amaro. If he doesn’t find the right chemistry this winter, it could be his last chance to pull the strings as a member of the Phillies’ brass.

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